Wealth planning: Transferring your estate

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You’ve worked a lifetime building wealth, but have you determined how to help ensure your legacy is passed on to whom and how? If not, your state of residence may make decisions that may or may not mirror your wishes.

Generational wealth transfer can help you secure your legacy.

Many people who’ve created or inherited wealth see their money not as an end in itself but as a resource. They may hope to use their assets to underwrite their own next chapters and to establish a legacy for their family and their philanthropic causes that could endure for generations to come.

I’ve seen this play out in a family I first met through its most senior members, who are now in their 80s.

The older generations are trying to help the youngest family members, now in their teens, to develop the sense that just because there’s family wealth, that doesn’t mean that when you’re 18 you get to go out and buy a fast car. This family believes everybody needs to be productive, and they don’t want wealth to interfere with that productivity.

But intentions alone can’t ensure that your family wealth planning passes along your values and creates a secure legacy. There are a number of ways for wealth transfer, and a successful transition requires thoughtful planning. According to a Gallup poll, 46% of Americans surveyed reported not having a will or estate plan§.

Putting the future at risk

Lack of planning can result in problems that range from higher-than-necessary taxes to misdirected or squandered assets.

  • Courts or outside entities could determine where your money goes. Without a will and other documents to spell out your wishes, courts or other outside entities could determine where your money goes, who will become guardians of your minor children, and what will happen if you’re incapacitated and are unable to make your own decisions. Everyone has an estate plan–it’s either the estate plan that you crafted, or the estate plan that your state crafted for you.
  • Charitable goals may go unfulfilled. A lack of timely wealth planning could also mean that your charitable goals go unfulfilled, and assets may be lost to divorced spouses, creditors, or court judgments against your estate.
  • Outdated plans may not reflect shifted priorities or life changes. Further complicating matters, existing estate plans could be considerably outdated. For many families, this is something they may have looked at 20 years ago, when their kids were young. Much may have shifted since then. I’ve seen funds that were intended to stay in the bloodline wind up outside of it because of marriages and divorces. Changes in family configurations, finances, or priorities may mean that estate provisions that once were appropriate no longer make sense—and need to be changed. The federal tax laws that govern lifetime and estate gifts also change frequently. For example, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemptions for individuals and couples have risen sharply in recent years, leading to a shift in estate planning strategies and a need for updated documents.

High stakes for family and heirs

Beyond the possible financial fallout of failing to establish and update a comprehensive succession plan is the potential emotional impact on heirs.

Lack of planning or communication can lead to court battles and divisions that persist for generations. I’ve seen cases where funds given with the intent of going to grandchildren go to someone else. I’ve seen the money squandered. Not doing the right kind of planning can lead to unintended results.

Heirs may also be unprepared or unable to manage an inheritance. I recently met with parents who wanted to transfer some of their wealth to their young adult children as a gift but were concerned that this might send the unintended—and incorrect—message that the children no longer needed to earn their own living. Indeed, money can be a magnifier. For someone who’s struggled, whether it be from substance abuse or other issues, money may make things worse. It can also create tension in a marriage.

These wide-ranging financial and emotional risks are emerging as the baby boomer generation ages. According to Cerulli Associates, a financial research firm, wealth transfer will total $84.4 trillion through 2045—$72.6 trillion in assets will be transferred to heirs, while $11.9 trillion will be donated to charities.

"Everyone has an estate plan. You either have the estate plan that you have crafted, or you have the estate plan that your state has crafted for you."

Dan Griffith, CEPA®
Director of Wealth Strategy, Huntington Private Bank®

An estate plan designed to fit your goals

Creating a plan that works for your family begins with thinking about what exactly you hope to achieve.

  • Do you envision an enduring business or philanthropic venture nurtured by future generations?
  • Is education extremely important to you?
  • Service to your community?
  • Taking care of family members who may be unable to care for themselves?

As you explore these questions, you may begin to focus on particular needs and how to address them. That may include the challenge of preparing potential beneficiaries to manage the money they receive, as well as making provisions for children with special needs. And while looking ahead to the long-term future, it’s also important not to shortchange your own objectives as you move into new chapters of your life.

In addition, if you have philanthropic goals, your plan can include specific provisions that set out what you want that part of your legacy to look like. You might set aside a percentage of your assets to go to charity, for example. Or perhaps you’re considering establishing a private charitable foundation that your children can help guide. Through all of this, it’s important to identify your priorities as clearly as possible and then make sure they’re integrated into your wealth transfer plan.

A thoughtful estate plan can help you control where, when, and how your wealth is passed along and can address your deeper beliefs as well. Make sure that you’re not only transferring your assets but also transferring your values.

Timing can be crucial

You’ll also need to consider when and how you want your wealth to be transferred. Lifetime gifts to your children or to trusts you set up may be as advantageous from a tax perspective as bequeathing assets through your will or other wealth transfer vehicles. Passing along some wealth now could let you see how your heirs use it, and you can structure transfers so that you retain control of how the money is used.

In the case of my clients who were considering a large gift to their children, the family began to explore how to use this initial gift as an opportunity to provide their children with financial education and empowerment during the parents’ lifetime. Rather than simply handing over the money and hoping for the best, the parents began a conversation about money and values that they hope will be ongoing, helping to make the younger generation responsible stewards of what they’ve been given.

Having that kind of discussion now and finding ways to express your values can mean that later, when you’re no longer around, you’ve not only prepared the assets appropriately, you have prepared your family too.

Finding the right structure

Once you’ve established goals and timing, your legal and tax advisors can help you determine what planning structures—your will, trusts, and other documents and tools—may be needed to meet your personal, financial, and charitable objectives, while helping to head off potential financial dangers and emotional distress.

Trusts, in particular, can be remarkably flexible. In my experience, trusts are the dominant tool currently used by estate planning professionals to structure an estate plan. A living trust, for example, could help distribute property without the complications, delays, or public exposure of assets that are transferred through a will and have to go through the probate process.

Several kinds of charitable trusts can benefit family members and designated philanthropic causes, while other forms of trusts can help you carry out your financial wishes for your family while retaining some control over how the money is distributed. Your team of advisors can help you take your family’s needs and your vision for the future and incorporate them into a specific estate plan that takes into account relevant tax laws and other considerations.

Working together

Your Huntington Private Bank advisor can work with you to help you understand your options and provide access to experienced professionals and sophisticated resources to move ahead with your vision. Your advisor can act as the point person on that team, but your unique vision will be the guiding force.

Our role is really to facilitate getting from that initial conversation through the execution of that document.

What’s important is to begin the conversation.

Estate planning is something that needs to happen now. We believe that planning in advance and involving the appropriate family members in the process allows us to help people create a successful transition of their wealth and their values.

You’ve worked hard to create a legacy, but you’ll have to take some steps to make the most of it. To learn more, please contact your Huntington Private Bank® team to see how we can help, or find a Huntington Private Bank Office near you.

Related Content

§ Gallup.com. June 23, 2021. "Majority in U.S. Do Not Have a Will." Accessed Oct. 14, 2022.  

Cerulli.com. January 20, 2022. "The Great Wealth Transfer." Accessed Oct. 16, 2022.  

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